France set up a mouth-watering Autumn Nations Cup final against England after a second-half showcase saw them beat Italy 36-5 at the Stade de France.
Tries from Jonathan Danty, Gabin Villiere, Baptiste Serin, Teddy Thomas and Sekou Macalou ensured Fabien Galthié’s men finished top of Group B and will now face England at Twickenham next week.
France went into the contest winning their previous nine games against Italy – and have never tasted defeat on home soil to the Azzurri.
The hosts took an early lead courtesy of Matthieu Jalibert’s early three-pointer, but it was the visitors who registered the opening try of the evening.
A fluent backs move saw Italy respond as centre Carlo Canna benefitted from a precise Paolo Garbisi offload to cross over for his first try in more than a year for Italy.
But Les Bleus soon responded through Canna’s opposite number, Jonathan Danty, who powered over for his first Test try to give France a 5-3 lead going into the break.
After a quiet opening to the second period, Jacopo Trulla’s yellow card for Italy dramatically changed proceedings with France scoring three tries in the following eight minutes.
First, former sevens star Villiere displayed tremendous raw pace to glide through the Azzurri defence to score his maiden Test try, before captain Serin piled over moments later to extend France’s lead.
It was not long until wing Thomas got among the action, sprinting down the touchline to score a fourth try of the game for France and his 13th try for his country.
With the game wrapped up, Stade Français’ Macalou added the cherry on top of France’s cake to score his first international try in the final play of the game.
“I enjoyed the captaincy without taking too much to my head,” said scrum-half Serin, who scored his sixth international try in Paris.
“I tried to make myself available to all the new players this week and to bring confidence. I wanted them to know they could come and talk to me about play and stress management. But everyone responded brilliantly, from the young to the old.
“It was a difficult first half due to the short time we had to prepare for the game – we expected it. But I remember that we never gave up anything, they came at us several times and we kept answering.
“I’m proud and happy for the new ones who start like this. It was not easy to evolve with a single group training in the week.”
France will now travel to south west London next Sunday to face Guinness Six Nations champions England, whose they beat 24-17 in the tournament’s opener in February.